Following her father's startling announcement that he has resigned his ministry in the Church of England and will be moving the family to Milton-Northern, an industrial town in northern England, Margaret sits pensively at the window-seat in her room overlooking the dark silhouette of the church tower amid the dramatic backdrop of her beloved Helstone. She painfully recalls the innocent bliss and leisure she enjoyed earlier in the day when she was undisturbed by the "hard reality . . . that her father had so admitted tempting doubts into his mind as to become a schismatic — an outcast." While surveying the serene landscape before her, Margaret despairs at the desolation she experiences, as she feels that there is "no sign of God" and that her reality has been irreversibly altered. At this moment, Mr. Hale enters to find his daughter in such a state of devastation, and he asks her to say the Lord's Prayer with him.

Mr. Hale and Margaret knelt by the window-seat — he looking up, she bowed down in humble shame. God was there, close around them, hearing her father's whispered words. Her father might be a heretic; but had not she, in her despairing doubts not five minutes before, shown herself a far more utter skeptic? She spoke not a word, but stole to bed after her father had left her, like a child ashamed of its fault. If the world was full of perplexing problems she would trust, and only ask to see the one step needful for the hour. Mr. Lennox — his visit, his proposal — the remembrance of which had been so rudely pushed aside by the subsequent events of the day — haunted her dreams that night. He was climbing up some tree of fabulous height to reach the branch whereupon she slung her bonnet: he was falling, and she was struggling to save him, but held back by some invisible powerful hand. He was dead. And yet, with a shifting of the scene, she was once more in the Harley Street drawing-room, talking to him as of old, and still with a consciousness all the time that she had seen him killed by that terrible fall.

Miserable, unresting night! Ill preparation for the coming day! She awoke with a start, unrefreshed, and conscious of some reality worse even than her feverish dreams. It all came back upon her; not merely the sorrow, but the terrible discord in the sorrow. Where, to what distance apart, had her father wandered, led by doubts which were to her temptations of the Evil One? She longed to ask, and yet would not have heard for all the world. — Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South, p. 43

Discussion Questions

1. How does this passage reflect Margaret's attitude toward her father's personal religious crisis versus his own attitudes toward his resignation from the Church and his relationship with God?

2. What does Margaret's dream symbolize (especially the death of Mr. Lennox)? How does it compare to other fantastic dream sequences found in the earlier novels we have read for this course?


Victorian Web Overview North and South Elizabeth Gaskell

Last modified 3 March 2003